Manhattan is rich in history. But where is history best preserved? What locations best hold the mysteries of past generations? We set out on a quest to answer this question and arrived at our somewhat disputable answer. The Taverns.
With histories checkered, colorful and preceding the birth of our nation, we thought it would be fun to do a Ten in Ten Tavern Krawl though Manhattan’s history. Ten historical taverns in 10 days.
Come along, you are invited to join us as we crawl through history experiencing some of the oldest and most colorful watering holes in Manhattan.
Although we may not do these in chronological order, we thought it best to begin at the beginning.
Day One: Fraunces Tavern
The year is 1762. We are not yet a nation. There is turmoil in New York as well as Boston and other coastal cities. We are a colony of the British, but there is a growing desire to become a free nation. Not everyone agrees, and the political debates are explosive.
Heated political discussions are dividing families, friends and neighbors. Some remain loyal to the British crown, others plotting for an independent and free nation. There was a lot at stake. For merchants, it meant having a voice in local decisions, lower taxes, and more autonomy. For indentured servants and slaves it was a hope for freedom.
This is the year that Samuel Fraunces buys a home from a wealthy family who is moving away from the growing turbulence. On the ground floor, he opens a tavern.
At that time taverns were community centers where locals of mixed status and travelers would meet to share ideas, trade news from Europe, and find entertainment . Often, they were home to political discussions.
Fraunces Tavern became the meeting place for the secret society known as the Sons of Liberty (https://patriottoursnyc.com/sons-of-liberty/). These are the men responsible for the famous tea parties in both New York and Boston. They also protested for free speech, freedom of the press and promoted the idea of independence from England.
Fraunces Tavern, located near the edge of the New York coastline, stood in the cross-hairs of the conflict. The harbor was filled with hundreds British ships full of soldiers.
A group of students from Kings College (now known as Columbia University) gained access to canons at Clinton Barracks on the southern point of Manhattan. They fired on the ships. British ships returned fire, sending a cannonball through the roof of the Fraunces tavern.
Following the war, British did not evacuate the island until 1783. A week after their departure General George Washington gathered his officers at Fraunces Tavern, shook their hands, wished them prosperity, then headed out for his next assignment 6 years later as the first president of the new country.
Stepping through the doorway and entering Fraunces Tavern, it is not difficult to imagine men of the 18th century gathered around the long plank tables and church pew seats.
Sunlight from small pane windows reflect on dark wooden walls. Rustic, yet elegant, it is easy to imagine the likes of George Washington gathered with his officers to discuss their strategies.
Through the work of the Sons of the Revolution, the building has been renovated and well preserved.
Upstairs is a museum of patriot artifacts, including a lock of Washington’s hair, period furniture, artwork and other collections that work to resurrect the era.
The main floor still functions as a bar, restaurant and meeting place. Additional rooms facing Water Street serve a more contemporary function with live music.
Fraunces Tavern rests between the Financial District and the South Seaport historical area. It is much further from the sea’s edge than it was in 1772, but if you stand back and consider it, you may find it easy to imagine that cannonball sailing into the roof.
From the Fulton Street Station it is a 9 minute walk south on Nassau Street, past Wall Street, south on Broad to Pearl.
Also in the area: Dead Rabbits Grocery and Bar, Broadstone café.